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Scanners II: The New Order / Scanners III: The Takeover (Blu-ray)

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Scanners II: The New Order / Scanners III: The Takeover (Blu-ray)Starring David Hewlett, Yvan Ponton, Steve Parrish, Liliana Komorowska

Directed by Christian Duguay

Distributed by The Scream Factory


David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi/horror opus Scanners has long been considered a classic amongst horror fans, due in large part to the infamous exploding head scene that occurs during its opening. That effect (crafted by the legendary Dick Smith) has pervaded pop culture even to this day, giving the picture a hook of notoriety that has almost outshined the film itself. The concepts and abilities introduced in that universe practically begged for a sequel… and it got one. In fact, it got a lot of them. And for some reason or another, nobody seems to remember anything about them. I know people who watch the first film regularly, yet they had no clue any further films existed until (who else?) Scream Factory came along to drop a double dose of telekinetic madness on home video. The fact of the matter is that both of these films – Scanners II: The New Order (1991) and Scanners III: The Takeover (1992) – were unceremoniously dumped onto VHS in the early ‘90s, totally bypassing any kind of a theatrical release.

It’s telling that they were produced within less than a year of each other. Truthfully, neither film comes close to matching Cronenberg’s initial vision, but each is kinda awesome in a “terrible ‘90s horror movie” sort of way. There also isn’t a single identifiable actor in either film, which might explain why no one was eager to pick them up for theatrical exhibition. A little gravitas can go a long way, you know? Still, the films do at least adhere loosely to some of the plotting set forth by Cronenberg, with Scanners II tying nicely into the first film via a minor, predictable plot twist while Scanners III takes a let’s-go-nuts approach and almost manages to become a cult classic in the process.

Scanners II: The New Order takes place ten years after the first film, introducing us to David (David Hewlett), a young man who has scanning abilities that he has trouble controlling because he lives in a major metropolitan city. All those minds “talking” at once create a lot of mental congestion in his head. He catches the eye of Commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton), an ambitious leader who wants to assemble a team of scanners to help create a new order in the city. He’s been experimenting on scanners for years, doping them up with a drug called EPH-2 that’s supposed to ease their constant headaches and numb their abilities. But the problem is that it’s highly addictive, leaving most of his scanning team looking like drugged-out extras from the Forbidden Zone out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). His latest find, a wanderer named Drak (Raoul Trujillo), is a volatile scanner who prefers to use his powers for evil; and Forrester needs someone who will play ball. He enlists David, and things go well at first until he learns that Forrester has intentions of eliminating the city’s top officials and inserting himself and other scanners in those high-ranking positions of power. David tries to get out, but Forrester sends Drak and another associate in pursuit. They learn David is hiding at his parent’s house, and they attack while David is out. His father survives, telling David he’s really adopted and that he’s got an older sister living in a cabin by the woods. David sets out to find his sister so that the two of them can storm Forrester’s compound and stop his insane bid to control the city.

The employment of drug addiction as a central plot point was popular in the early ‘90s. The first year of that decade alone saw this film, RoboCop 2, and I Come In Peace, all of which dealt with hardcore drug use and addiction in some way. The ‘90s were a period of reflection, when filmmakers looked back on the party hard days of riding the white pony in the ‘80s and turned the tide by showcasing the dangerous effects of drug abuse. There’s a clear allegory being drawn here by demonstrating how injecting EPH-2 wreaks havoc on the bodies of its test subjects. David, who remains “pure”, avoids these debilitating side effects by learning to cope with his abilities and focus them, rather than taking the easy way out by escaping into a drugged-out release from his constant pain. The notion of creating an elite scanner unit holds some interest, too, but those intentions are never fully realized. It really all boils down to David vs. Drak, which is a rehash of Vale vs. Revok from the last film. And the dude who plays Drak is no Michael Ironside. Forrester doesn’t make for an interesting villain because he’s just a regular dude hung up on power; he isn’t even a scanner. This, when you think about it, makes him pretty damn stupid, since he regularly abuses the exact kind of people he knows are capable of controlling the planet. Would you keep pissing off someone who can make your head explode? Right.

Don’t worry, fans, the series’ trademark cranial eruptions are present here. None of them even comes close to matching the intensity and HOLY SHIT!-ness of the first film’s opening explosion, but there are some mildly commendable effects shown here. Director Christian Duguay doesn’t turn this film into a frantic bloodbath, and there is a nice balance struck between furthering the story and satisfying the bloodlust of fans watching at home. I had hoped the climax would veer into a grandiose showdown between scanners – and it does to a degree – but things could have been punched up a bit more to increase the impact. As it stands, Scanners II is a decent, totally watchable sequel that expands upon the first film’s story while also managing to stand on its own thanks to some new ideas. It’s not great, but it’s good enough.

Scanners III: The Takeover, on the other hand, is a blissful slice of absurdity. The film completely ignores the events and characters of the previous films, only retaining the concept of Ephemerol and its effects on unborn children. At the onset, we’re introduced to Alex (Steve Parrish) and his sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), both of whom are scanners. Scanning is a known trait in society, and Alex is goaded into using his powers as a party trick to impress drunken friends. But as he’s playfully pushing his best friend across the floor using only the power of his mind, someone bumps his shoulder, causing Alex to lose focus and mentally shove his buddy (dressed as Santa) right off his balcony high above the city. The event devastates Alex, so much so that he decides to flee the country and become a monk somewhere in Thailand (sadly, no Scanner Monk spinoffs have followed). In his absence, Helena becomes the sole heir to their father’s pharmaceutical company, a company which happens to produce EPH-3, yet another experimental drug that is intended to alleviate the constant pain scanners suffer. Sure, it’s not even close to being ready for human trails, but Helena doesn’t care so she slaps a patch on her neck to let the drug take effect. It works, but there’s the unfortunate side effect of it making her totally psychotic. And this is where Scanners III gets fun – with Helena using her incredible powers for all kinds of nasty, hilariously wrong antics. As you’d expect, Alex is the only one who can stop her, leading to his return and combat with his mental equal.

You’re a fan. You’ve been watching Scanners films. And you’ve been thinking, “Why haven’t I seen someone use scanning to make their boss do an embarrassing dance in front of a potential client?” Wait no longer friends, because Evil Helena has way too much fun with her powers. Annoying pigeon making noises nearby? BOOM! Someone points their finger in a threatening manner? EXPLODED! Don’t like the doctor’s diagnosis? BLOW HIS HEAD UP! Helena manages to figure out that she can scan people through the television, allowing her to influence a talk show host and his guest into canoodling on stage. And it works on VHS, too! So, now she can broadcast a scan signal to everyone in America. The film’s story is absolute crap, hardly interesting. But it more than makes up for that by unleashing a flurry of nasty little gore gags. One of the best deaths in the movie occurs when someone gets scanned underwater, resulting in a crimson explosion that rises up from the depths like a nuclear test. And there isn’t even enough time to discuss the Thailand kung-fu scanner fight. Suffice it to say, this film runs wild with generating new ways for a scanner to totally destroy people. It’s ridiculous from about 2/3 of the way in all the way up to the end credits. If only they’d had this pace right from the start, it could have been Ninja III: The Domination (1984) epic.

Both films come home with the same a/v specs – a 1.78:1 1080p transfer (which would be the original aspect ratio debut for both titles), as well as an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Scanners II exhibits a heavy layer of grain throughout its running time, an issue that is only exacerbated in dark lighting. The image itself is moderately defined, displaying some crisp lines and a sharp picture for the most part. Faces show an average, unspectacular amount of detail, but flesh tones do appear to be natural and lifelike. The film has a muted color palette, so there aren’t many bright colors that pop off the screen to add some contrast. It looks about on par with any other direct-to-video low-budget flick produced over 20 years ago, to be honest. Scanners III fares about the same, although the grain here does veer into full-on noise territory in a few scenes, chief among them the boardroom meeting. This entry featured more daylight scenes, and the better lighting conditions allow the picture looks sharper and brighter. The print has some noticeable dirt specks that sporadically appear, whereas the print for II looked to be in better shape. On the audio side of things, neither track is impressive by any means. Scanners II actually showcases some good panning effects between the front end assembly, almost managing to mimic surround sound. The moody sax & piano score comes through clear and free from any audio defects. Dialogue is well-balanced in the mix. Scanners III was more of a mixed bag, with some dialogue levels sounding too low in the mix. There’s not much presence, leaving the sound anemic and lacking range. It would’ve been nice to get some low-end support on these films, but considering the rush job done on both for production it’s not surprising they sound like, well, really low-budget productions. Neither film has subtitles.

Also, neither film has extras. “Not even a trailer?” you say? No, not even a trailer.

Although neither film here comes close to matching the first – both in intellect and acting abilities – there’s a certain charm to watching them. Scanners II plays out very much like an expected sequel would, only with a few new elements added in to differentiate it from its predecessor. Scanners III, however, manages to go from being a chore to almost becoming an exploitative gem thanks to some fun gross-out gags that are peppered throughout the abysmally dull plot. Now Scream Factory just needs to get on releasing a twofer of both Scanner Cop films and that’ll wrap up the series on home video.

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    Scanners II: The New Order:

    2 1/2 out of 5

    Scanners III: The Takeover:

    3 out of 5

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    0 out of 5

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    DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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    Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

    Directed by Adrian Corona


    I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

    Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

    Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

    Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

    If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

    • Film
    4.5

    Summary

    Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!

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    User Rating 5 (2 votes)
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    Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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    Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

    Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


    “Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

    That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

    Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

    At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

    These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

    Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

    It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

    If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

    • Film
    3.0

    Summary

    Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.

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    User Rating 3.11 (9 votes)
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    The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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    Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

    Directed by Guillermo del Toro


    “True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

    The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

    The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

    Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

    The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

    While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

    Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

    The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

    • Film
    4.5

    Summary

    The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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    User Rating 4.57 (7 votes)
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